R. Andreas Kraemer, director of the think tank Ecologic Institute, argues thatonshore wind power “using a larger variety of technologies, and being employed in additional geographies, becomes more dependable and potentially even more central to the Energiewende.” Its hardware and installation is significantly cheaper than current offshore technology, as well as the most cost-effective among other renewables, such as PV. (The feed-in-tariff for onshore wind is only 8-9 [euro] cents a kilowatt compared to PV’s 12–18 ct/kWh.) The advances in technology, such as vertical axis rotors, and new venues, like urban areas, forests, and tops of buildings, he argues translates into higher generation capacity and a smoother supply for the grid, regardless of weather conditions. “This could spell much higher wind power potential as well as a much higher market share of onshore wind power,” he says.
In terms of technology, Kraemer notes than onshore has benefited enormously technological advances in offshore technology, despite the fact that Germany’s ambitious offshore plans have largely stalled. The wind power industry, he argues, has mastered the skills necessary to put foundations, masts and turbines, and grid access onto questionable ground in corrosive salt water 40 meters deep. “But those same turbines,” argues Kraemer, “could also be mounted on firmer ground in the forested areas of southern Germany, especially the ridges with high wind speeds, where canopies are about the height as the water is deep in the North and Baltic Sea. In a non-corrosive environment with shorter distances for grid access and almost year-round workability on site, they would be cheaper to build, and they would be in the region where the remaining nuclear power plants are soon to be retired.”
The newest generation wind turbines cropping up across Germany are the biggest in the world: They soar as high as 140 meters into the air and some boast outputs of 7.5 megawatts. “This transformation has not only made wind turbines more acceptable to local citizenries because there can be fewer masts where there once were many,” explains Martin Elsberger of Bavaria’s state-run Energy Agency. “But they’re quieter now. And also they have the capacity to generate meaningful output in typically regions, like Bavaria.”
Indeed the opening of the southern German states of Bavaria and Baden Württemburg for onshore wind is one of the major developments of the past few years. While the industrially and agriculturally powerful trunk of Germany is blanketed with PV installations, it has lagged far behind Germany’s north in terms of wind power. The most obvious reason for this is that it gets less wind than the coast and its hinterland. Also, in the past, the NIMBY sentiment (in Bavaria called “Not In My Alps”) has stopped all but the smallest forays into wind.
“Many peoples’ views about wind power in Bavaria have changed,” says Elsberger, though noting it is a cautious trend and not a wholesale about-face. Both Bavaria and Baden Württemburg have made extensive tracts of previous off-limits sites, including in the Alps, available to wind park development. Elsewhere in Germany, too, new regions have opened up – an upshot of popular demand. Cities, towns and municipalities see energy production, and wind now in particular, as a means to investing their communities and keep value generation in their own hands.
One of the biggest factors at the root of the change in attitude, he says, has been the increased participation of citizens in the planning, investment, and operation of wind power installations. “If they’re part of the venture then they’re more likely to accept it than if some big anonymous company is behind it.” The plans of Munich’s city-run utility Stadtwerke München are emblematic of the ambitions across the south. The utility, which plans to power all of Munich with green energy by 2020, is in discussion with 40 nearby cities and villages to invest in wind parks of various sizes. By 2021 all of Bavaria could have as much as 10 percent of its total electricity generated by onshore facilities.
With so much going for it – and grassroots NIMBY opposition easing across Germany as it has in Bavaria – what then is the obstacle to “more, better, and bigger” in terms of onshore wind? Why is onshore wind current production in danger of being “capped” and incentives cut back?
This article is abridged. For the full version, look out for the January-February edition of Renewable Energy World magazine – or why not subscribe?
Lead image: Wind turbines via Shutterstock